Tuesday, September 21, 2010

OpenProj - Not bad, but ...

I am not an expert in project planning tools at all. But if a customer asks me to take the role of a technical lead or to coach another lead in a project, I will need a tool like MS Project. A lot of people take Excel instead, but over the years I got used to MS Project and now I really like it.

A technical lead typically has at least some planning tasks to fulfill. He must estimate the effort of the upcoming tasks, put them in some time line and assign the members of his team to the tasks. I am using two different kinds of tools to get this part of the job done as easily and efficient as possible: a task management system like Redmine or Jira. And a project planning tool, which up to now typically was MS Project.

In MS Project I'm performing the time and resource planning. For the actual assignment of the tasks and the tracking of the progress I'm using the task management system. One problem of this approach is, that some customer won't pay for a MS Project license (yes, I could buy one myself, of course. But often I am not even allowed to bring my own laptop). As I recently talked with a colleague about this problem, he guided me to OpenProj. OpenProj is an open source project planning tool written in Java. Its GUI and the basic feature set is very similar to MS Project.

I did some quick tests to check if the features I use most in MS Project work in OpenProj, too. The following features of OpenProj work OK for me:

  • Create resources with individual calendars
  • Choose individual columns for the task list
  • Easily enter tasks in the Gantt-View.
  • Enter estimated effort of a task in hours or days
  • Assign one or multiple resources to a task by simply entering the name in the task list
  • Duration of a task is calculated automatically based on the entered effort
  • Dependencies to other tasks can be entered manually in the task list
  • Tasks can be easily grouped (this worked only partly for me, because I didn't manage to group tasks by keyboard)
  • Aggregated properties (effort, duration, ...) of a task group are calculated automatically
  • Easily create milestones (by entering a duration of zero days, like in MS Project)
  • Choose different planning restrictions for a task (starts at, ends at, enter a delay, etc.)
  • Easily monitor the resource usage. In fact, this works even better than in MS Project, because OpenProj offers some comfortable, combined views of Gantt charts and resource usage.
  • Highlight the critical path in the Gantt chart
  • Export task list to excel. This basically works by Copy&Paste, but is not very comfortable. For example, you loose all task groupings when pasting the tasks in Excel.

Now for the bad news: OpenProj is not able to automatically level the resource usage (at least I have nothing found in the documentation and in the GUI about this feature). That is, if you assign multiple tasks to the same resource in the same period of time, this resource will remain over-allocated. You can easily monitor this in the resource usage view, but you have to resolve it manually.

Summary: OpenProj supports most of the basic functionality I'm personally using in a desktop planning tool. However, its lack of automatic resource leveling is a show stopper for me. I could work around this in small projects. But, honestly, in small projects I would rather use some sort of simple ToDo-List Utility like the one from AbstractSpoon Software.

1 comment:

  1. I tickle exactly the same problem, quite useless tool without that key function


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